Persistence (begins at 35:33)

October 20, 2019

Series: October 2019

Category: Faith

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.


 You may remember back in 2017, when the US Senate was examining Jeff Sessions as the nominee for Attorney General.  Elizabeth Warren chose to read a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, which criticized Mr. Sessions when he was, at that time, up for a federal judgeship.  Presiding Senate chair Steve Daines and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell intervened to stop Warren, citing a Senate rule that forbids demeaning another Senator.  McConnell later explained, “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”[i]

 That line then became a rallying cry for women’s rights and feminist advocates across the country.  The theme of Women’s History Month in March of 2018 became “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  Suddenly, you could by all kinds of swag with the phrase, “Nevertheless, she persisted.”  T-shirts, mugs, bumper stickers … you name it.  Memes broke out across social media highlighting women throughout history who have shown persistence. 

 I don’t think the widow from this story from Luke’s Gospel made it into any of these memes, but she certainly could have.  The story says that she kept coming to the judge, asking for justice.  The judge keeps refusing, and she persists and persists, continuing to seek the justice she has been denied.  Finally the judge relents.  “I will grant her justice,” he says, “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”

 Last week, Rob’s sermon was about both the importance of planting gardens and finding beauty in whatever situation we find ourselves, and the continuing call to be actively engaged in our community seeking justice.  It is no mistake that our readings this week continue to focus on this theme.  These readings highlight the fact that seeking justice is hard work.  It requires persistence.  It is often a long road.  There will be people who disagree with us.  We will face roadblocks.  Nevertheless, we are called to persist.  “Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable,” says the letter to Timothy.  The work of justice is not easy.  Yet we persist.

 I have been inspired by the persistent work of some local groups as they have advocated for justice.  The Marin Organizing Committee, for example, is having a big 10 year anniversary convention next Sunday.  They will celebrate some of the justice issues for which they have advocated in the past 10 years, including affordable housing and renter protections.  Their work has not been easy.  They have had setbacks.  They have had people disagree with them.  Multiple potential sites for a homeless shelter in Marin, for example, have fallen through as neighbors have complained and city and county codes have proved insurmountable.  Nevertheless, they have persisted.  A new “housing first” model has been adopted in Marin, and has helped many people who were experiencing homelessness finally find housing.

 The local Moms Demand Action group has been meeting here at Westminster for the last several months.  They are dedicated to reducing gun violence, mostly by advocating for gun sense legislation – things like mandatory background checks and waiting periods.  They have certainly faced setbacks, as they have watched bills they support stall in committee or simply never come for a vote.  Earlier this month, State Assemblyman Marc Levine was here reporting on a bill the group had been supporting.  It is currently stuck in the appropriations committee, and Levine was not optimistic it would ever move out of that committee.  Nevertheless, they persist.  They continue to write letters to elected officials, to phone bank, to educate. 

 Just last week, Alex McNeill was ordained into the ministry.  He is the first openly transgender man to be ordained by the Presbyterian church.  At his ordination service, The Rev. Janie Spahr – a good friend of Westminster – was mentioned multiple times.  The Rev. Scott Clark reflected, “As we celebrated the ordination of the Rev. Alex McNeill, many of us noted all the ways that Janie has opened the way for days like this — through her tenacious (persistent!) insistence that God’s love is for all people; through the love and encouragement she’s offered so many of us; through her prophetic and pastoral witness to a church that was slow to be as loving; and through all the ways that she gathers and embodies a community of love.” Throughout Janie’s career, time and time again, the church has brought charges against her as she tirelessly advocated for justice for the LGBT community.  With each new charge, she persisted.  And last week she got to celebrate at Alex’s ordination.

 The work of justice requires persistence.  It is so often difficult.  But, let us not forget that it can also bring rejoicing.  The work of justice also requires discernment.  Elizabeth Warren would argue that on that fateful day in the Senate chambers, she was persisting on behalf of justice.  The letter she was reading argued that Sessions used “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens” while serving as a United States attorney in Alabama.  Warren would argue that she was attempting to give the voiceless a voice – that her persistence was absolutely necessary in the pursuit of justice.  Others would say that she was clearly breaking a rule.  That she needed to have respect for the rules of the Senate.  That her persistence was rude and uncalled for.

 We need to be able discern when and how to persist.  My four-year-old nephew, for example, is still learning this.  He is perhaps the most persistent child I know.  But he does not always use his persistence for good.  Lately my sister has been struggling with him trashing his room when he is supposed to be taking his afternoon nap.  She keeps taking things out of his room, and he keeps finding new things to use to make a mess.  It is a constant battle.  Luckily, my good-natured sister is taking the long view.  She told me the other day that as she struggles through this, she just hopes that he will learn to use his persistence for good one day.

 So how do we decide?  How do we know when to persist for justice?  According to our readings today, a good start is to ground ourselves in scripture and in prayer.  The writer of the letter to Timothy reminds him that from childhood he has known the sacred writings that are able to instruct him.  That scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching and for training in righteousness.  Some people, says the writer, will not put up with sound doctrine and will find teachers to suit their own desires, but we are to continue in what we have learned from scripture.  To persistently proclaim the message.

 Luke prefaces Jesus’ parable about the widow and the judge by saying it is a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart.  We are to be as persistent in prayer as the widow is in seeking justice from the judge.

 When we plant our gardens – to use Rob’s language from last week – when we feed our souls and nurture our relationship with God through scripture and prayer, we can then be ready to discern how we are called to the work of justice in the world. 

 Though the phrase, “Nevertheless, she persisted” has been used to highlight women who have persisted for justice, I couldn’t help but make a meme for Jesus as well.  For he, too, is a model for persisting for justice in the face of adversity.  First, he grounded himself in prayer and scripture – often finding a time to get away for prayer or for study.  Then, he boldly proclaimed justice for all.  He healed on the Sabbath because he felt strongly that God was calling him to heal … even though it was unlawful to work on the Sabbath.  He challenged the power structures that kept so many people poor and voiceless … even though he knew those in power would push back against him.  He continued to preach love and justice and grace for all … even when it eventually led to his death. 

 Jesus never promised his disciples that following him would be easy.  In fact, he was very clear that it would be difficult.  And yet, he called them to do the work.  To persist for justice.  May we do the same.